3 June 2021

Research pick: Flight shaming - "Flight shaming consumers into aviation sustainability: which factors moderate?"

Flight shaming is a modern social phenomenon. It emerged in Sweden in the summer of 2019 where people with an environmental bent feel obliged to embarrass friends and relatives who are taking more flights than they feel necessary – “flygskam”. It is apparent across the globe now and could be a growing issue for the aviation industry to address through better practices as well as marketing.

Given the emergence of COVID-19 towards the end of that year and its elevation to a global pandemic, flying became briefly less about the negative environmental impact than about avoiding the spread of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Nevertheless, there are environmental issues still to consider and new research in the International Journal of Sustainable Aviation has looked at whether or not “flygskam” has led to a change in attitude among the ardent jetsetters?

Scott Winter, Tracy Lamb, Ryan Wallace, and Carolina Anderson of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, USA, suggest that this initially European phenomenon of flight shaming is growing. It perhaps pivoted initially on the well-publicised activism of the young, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, a relative of Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius who qualifited and quantified the nature of global warming in the late 19th Century.

The US team carried out three studies with 847 participants and found that people were significantly less willing to fly when they had been flight shamed. Moderators of the attitude – value with sustainability and willingness to pay for sustainability – had a significant effect on whether or not a participant was inclined to fly or not. The team points out that making flight a more sustainable mode of transport would be the way to counter the effects of flight shaming.

“These results suggest that flight shaming may affect passengers’ willingness to fly, and the industry should consider promoting their efforts to reduce environmentally harmful effects of air travel and their initiatives for improving the sustainability of air travel,” the team concludes.

Winter, S.R., Lamb, T.L., Wallace, R.J. and Anderson, C.L. (2021) ‘Flight shaming consumers into aviation sustainability: which factors moderate?’, Int. J. Sustainable Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp.21–45.

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